From the Director





by Rex Parker, Phd

May 14 Meeting – Election of Officers. Once again we’ve come around in our orbit to the election point for the Board of Trustees. Actually it’s the re-election point, since each of your current officers has again agreed to stand for another 1-yr term. All members are urged to attend the May 14 meeting at Peyton Hall to give us your vote of confidence — and we need a quorum.

Through the dedication and skill of Board members the organization operates effectively and the future direction of the club is guided. The cutting edge lectures by renowned speakers don’t just spontaneously appear at Peyton Hall the 2nd Tuesday of the month. The Observatory telescopes and electronics do not provide clear images of the sky on their own accord. The financial health isn’t in balance, public astronomy isn’t brought to hundreds of kids and adults each year, and the comradery and interest of the membership isn’t promoted without high-functioning Board members. So here’s a big round of thanks from me speaking for the entire AAAP, for Ira Polans (Program Chair), Michael Mitrano (Treasurer), Larry Kane (Asst. Director), Jim Poinsett (Secretary), Dave and Jenn Skitt (Observatory Chair), and Gene Allen (Outreach Chair) for their contributions and willingness to step forward for another year.

From Stone to Star, part 2. As we left the story last month, answering the deep questions about the origin of heavy elements on earth draws upon theory and observational science in astronomy, physics, geology, and chemistry. Gold, platinum, and the other rare heavy metals that are so precious to human civilization can only be obtained by mining from deposits near the surface of the planet. But that may change in the not-too-distant future as science fiction approaches reality.

The story of gold and its fellows is a tale of long and involved geological processes bringing the metals up from magma near the core where it sank during the early molten stage of formation of the earth 4.5 billion years ago. The amount of gold mined through human history is remarkably little, less than 200,000 tons, of which ~2/3 has been mined since 1950 according to data from the World Gold Council. Surprisingly, if that total amount of minable gold were stacked into a cube it would measure less than 22 meters on each side. Only about 50,000 tons is thought to be still in the ground and minable. Clearly a financial case might be made for mining the asteroids, where gold is one of many valuable metals which could be obtained. Indeed, NASA, JPL, Arizona State University, and Maxar Technologies are teaming up for a mission to explore the composition, structure, and history of the metallic asteroid 16 Psyche. This asteroid, first discovered and named back in the 1850’s after the Greek goddess of the soul, is about 70 miles in diameter and orbits between Mars and Jupiter.

The composition of 16 Psyche is highly enriched in iron, nickel, and heavier elements including gold and platinum, suggesting it originated as the core of a planet long-since blasted apart. The amount of gold and other rare metals in 16 Psyche vastly exceeds the amount of minable precious metals on the earth’s surface. At last, we have motivation for a space mission from both the science and financial communities! Bringing even a fraction of that much gold and other metals to earth could be hugely disruptive to the economy, but the NASA team is only instrumentally exploring and not mining, at least in the near future. Yet the stuff of sci-fi is inexorably drawing closer to becoming reality as the asteroids align with dreams of once unimagined sources of wealth on earth.

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From the Program Chair

by Ira Polans

The May meeting will be held on the 14th at 7:30PM in the auditorium (Room 145) of Peyton Hall on the Princeton University campus.

The May talk was chosen as a good way to end the 2018-2019 AAAP lecture series as July 20,, 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 moon landing.

The featured speaker is James Chen who will discuss his book How to Find the Apollo Landing Sites. This book is for anyone who wants to be able to connect the history of lunar exploration to the Moon visible above. It addresses what Apollo equipment and experiments were left behind and what the Apollo landings sites look like now. Each Apollo mission is examined in detail, with photos that progressively zoom-in to guide the reader in locating the Apollo landing sites. Guided by official NASA photographs from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the original Apollo missions, the backyard astronomers can view the Moon with a new appreciation of the accomplishment of landing astronauts on its surface. Countless people have gazed at the Moon in the night sky knowing the successes of the Apollo Program in landing men on the Moon. With the information in this guide, casual and serious observers can actually point out where the Apollo landings occurred as well as knowing why those sites were chosen. During the break there will be a book signing.

The 10 minute talk will be the second and final installment about our trip last summer to Chicago and the Yerkes Observatory. This part of the talk will be given by Dave and Jennifer Skitt.

There will be a meet-the-speaker at 6 PM at Winberie’s in Palmer Square. If you want to join us for dinner please email me at by Noon on May 14.

Looking forward to you joining us at the May meeting!

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Outreach Blotter

by Gene Allen, Outreach Chair

Last month, as I scrambled to submit yet another delinquent article (!), I neglected to report on the excellent showing our members made at an Outreach Event in Plainsboro back in March. Once again an evening of star gazing was clouded out, but organizer Tara Miller moved the gathering indoors and Event Lead Jeffrey Pinyan reconfigured the program.

“Despite the cloud cover, there was a reasonable turnout (several dozen people), and I think tonight’s event was a success. Both adults and children got to see an array of different telescopes, and some volunteers even had visuals to share (previously captured astrophotographs, and Luisa brought her meteorite collection and presentation). Tara seemed pleased with the result, and all of us were busy with visitors for most of the time we were present. Only one volunteer [of seven!] couldn’t attend, due to illness.”

On Thursday, June 20, we need both Keyholders and Member volunteers who can bring additional scopes to offer a star gazing evening to 20-40 participants of the Delaware River Sojourn, a paddle trip that began in Hancock, NY. They will be camping overnight in WCSP before continuing south on the river.

We have multiple libraries clamoring for astronomy presentations since the state declared a summer reading program theme to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. It has been something of a struggle limiting them to nine by referring more distant ones to other clubs. Some of them will be daytime programs, and some have requested evening star gazing. A couple of us are trying to develop a “canned” but adaptable presentation to introduce an all-age audience to the pleasures and rewards of amateur astronomy. I have been told that our most enthusiastic “guru” of outreach, the late Gene Ramsey, may have had some such materials. When he trained me to become a Keyholder, he spoke often about his meteorite collection as his cloudy weather alternative. “If I can’t show them a star,” he was fond of saying, “at least I can show them a piece of one!” If anyone has a copy of any of his outreach material, please contact me. It would be an honor to compile a “Gene Ramsey Memorial Lecture.” In addition, I will be recruiting members to help make these library presentations.

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April 2019 meeting minutes

by Jim Poinsett Sr.

Minutes of the April 9th meeting of the Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton

  • Rex called the meeting to order and Ira introduced the speakers for the evening, Gino Segre and Bettina Hoerlin and their lecture titled “The Pope of Physics, Enrico Fermi and the Birth of the Atomic Age”.
  • After the lecture Prasad announced the slate of nominees for next year, everyone except Jim Poinsett as secretary will return. John Miller has placed his name in nomination for the secretary position.
  • The dates for the celestial navigation class were discussed, contact Ira if interested.
  • The club brochure has been re-designed with color graphics and photos by Rex Parker. Some professionally printed ones will be ordered and some will be printed by Jim Poinsett for communiversity.
  • Speaking of that, Communiversity is April 28th, 1-6 PM, volunteers are needed. Contact Gene.
  • Observatory news
    • The water is on
    • The Mewlon has been collimated
    • A list of observatory equipment for member use is available, quite an impressive list.
    • The ZWO ASI 294 camera is in use at the observatory the Starlight Express Ultrastar is available for members to borrow.
  • May 3 and May 10 are the Planetarium / Observatory combination nights. Extra members would be helpful at the observatory to help with the crowd (optimistically) from the planetarium. That is if we ever get a clear Friday night, 0 for 4 so far.
  • There are new exhibits at the Planetarium commemorating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.
  • There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.
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A gravitational challenge

by John Church

The AAAP has members who enjoy science and math challenges. I invite all who are interested to try their hands at this one.

Consider two identical, homogeneous, nonmagnetic cubes, each having a mass of 1 kg, measuring 0.04 meters (4 cm) on an edge. One of these cubes is securely fixed in place on a horizontal, inert, and perfectly frictionless surface. The other cube, initially at rest and 1 meter to the left of the fixed cube (center to center), is free to slide towards the fixed cube under the sole influence of their mutual gravitation. Such cubes would have a density of 15.6 g/cm3 or about that of a 70-30 alloy of gold and silver. Assume that there are no significant masses nearby to perturb the experiment. Assume also that any possible movement of the fixed cube is negligible.

(Note, in memory of Henry Cavendish and his pioneering work on gravitation, you could also use far less costly lead cubes of different masses and sizes, but cost is no object here.)

The cubes would touch when their center-to-center distance had been reduced to 0.04 m. How long would it take for this to happen? How fast would the movable cube be going just before contact? Take the gravitational constant (G) as 6.67 x 10-11 m3 kg-1 sec-2 . Present a graph to show the position of the movable cube as a function of time.

Here is a diagram of the setup. My word processor does not have a square symbol to represent a cube, so a capital “O” will have to do:

Movable cube

O—————————————————–OO Fixed cube

Center is initially 1 meter from Cube centers are 0.04 meter from

center of fixed cube. each other when they touch.

Time = 0 Speed = 0 Time = ? Speed = ?

A Canadian friend of mine (“eh?”) came up with an anagram of my solution for the length of time that this would take. Ignore the comma and the question mark.

To find us a pretty egg in Ohio, eh?

In the spirit of Galileo, I can show priority by giving the solution to the anagram. We are not in Ohio or Canada of course, let alone Italy, but this particular egg (a lost Easter egg?) is perhaps not unattractive. Finders keepers!

Possibly one or more of you can find time and speed solutions early enough to make the June Sidereal Times. (If not then, perhaps for the Midsummer edition.) However, as they say on final exams, you must show your work, including the graph. If you can demonstrate that your solutions are more egg-xact than mine, then congratulations: you win and I get egg on my face, so to speak.

You get extra credit if you also decipher the anagram successfully. Fair warning – there are many possible solutions and you should do the math first. One entry per challenger please. There are anagram solvers on the Internet, but I don’t think they will help you very much; I tried them already.

If nobody has found solutions by the time of our September meeting, I can give a 10-minute talk with my answers. Good luck!

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amateur tested

by Thedore R. Frimet

save the universe one life at a time

I am getting ready to embark on a mission. A deep space, fly-by, that has been tested, and retested by the best of the best, of the best.

Early detection saves lives. Even if you are an amateur, I smack you with the gauntlet, that many spired glove of reality. This is the essay of life, liberty and the pursuit of early colon cancer detection.

Yes, I will be traveling down the path not easily taken, nor preferred. I will be shortly sustaining my being and the backside of Orion’s view, with green Jello, Beef and Chicken flavored bouillon.

Not to be undone, of course, will be 8.3 oz of nasty recourse, dissolved into 64 oz of cool blue glacier flavored Gatorade, and a doctor ordered 4 pill chaser.

I never put this stuff in my body. But what the heck. In the freezer, awaiting my desserts, are a single flavor (not red) ices as my just reward.

However, and not to lead anyone of you, down the road to shallow disappointment, I have managed to also purchase apple juice.

And to my contentment, and your laughter – YES – the apple juice is organic.

Remember: Save the Universe, one life at a time.
Tell a fellow amateur to get a colonoscopy, today.

Nothing but love, and thanks for reading, as I prepare for the deep end of the scope.

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When enough is enough

by Theodore R. Frimet

to teet, or not to teet? that is the question

I had entered an order into eBay a few weeks ago. It was for a slide study on meiosis. The seller had access to slides, presumably all the same (the growing tip of some typical specious plant). The purveyor of the micro-slides circled the ostentatious breaks that visually were representative of each meiotic phase.

I put in a best offer. It was declined. I put in a better, best offer. It was declined, again. I put in a highest, best-offer, one cent below the ask price. It too was declined. I wrote into eBay describing my disenchantment, and offered a suggestion to the seller. That they get on-board. The result was that they increased their sales price. No meiosis slides for mr wordy.

Truth be told, even at the higher price, it appeared to be a bargain. In the interim, I completed a purchase order with a true, dyed-in-the wool, trusted seller, for a set of pathology slides. Happiness be thy name.

A short while later, I decided to place an order for a good used book on human histology. This arrived in the mail, just the other day. Unfortunately, the arrival coincided with my responsibility to be at Washington Crossing Park for our AAAP Observers Duty. So, no biology that evening.

The skies clouded out, and it rained. This was most unfortunate, as I had already promised to pick up our newly minted, and folded brochures, and to bring said folio to UACNJ the very next day. What to do? Forget about human histology, for awhile at least. And sleep thru the clouds and the rain – and make it a new day, on Saturday.

I picked up the brochures, and dutifully delivered them to the UACNJ site, where many associated astronomy clubs sport their menus for the taking. It was Astronomy Day, this Saturday, at Jenny Jump. And I was not to be disappointed.

What does this have to do with meiosis? Nothing at all, old sport. However, on Sunday, I did load up a cross section of Rabbit spinal cord, and by using Fiore’s Human Histology duly noted that horn cells, and some other similar structures simply are not to be found in rabbit pathology. Go figure. We are somehow very different, after-all.

I wonder if it is the same with the Cosmos? Probably not, as any sane physicist will tell you that all particular matter can be transformed into a structural relationship that establishes consciousness. And math could very well be used to describe your soul. Just as one would describe the apparent lack of particulates for wave-forms thru a solid, or liquid. Yet waves, and patterns that do not have a particle basis do exist in our reality. Ah souls do exist! Bring it on Max Tegmark, courtesy of a Ted Talks on YouTube.

I was sitting in the dark. Well, that is nothing do brag about, as all you amateur astronomers sit in the dark. Unless, that is, you are doing computational math and an analysis looking for clues in the puddle of data in front of you! Well, I had a red light. So, it wasn’t too dark. And the moon was half full, and the sky full of wispy clouds to refract the light of the night. Ok. I wasn’t sitting in the dark. If you weren’t such an accomplished amateur, and were new to the crowd, you’d bump your head, and say, “hey, it’s really very dark out here”!

People came and went, while looking thru a Baader and the sixteen inch, at the moon. Craters, basalt fields, terminator, oh my! It appeared to me that just about everyone that looked, had enjoyed their view. As for myself, I settled into a nice lawn chair, besides the scope, and chatted with a fellow amateur astronomer, and his daughter. The universe was very kind to me that evening. I had a great chat, with a long time amateur, and had the ear of budding new one!

“Should I get that ten inch telescope?”, she quipped. My two years of experience started to kick in. I felt the wheels turning. Molecular biology at its best. Histones were being unraveled in record time, while DNA, not being exposed to the lot of its nucleosome experience, became naked and exposed. Polymerase chain reactions were set into motion while DNA was being transcribed to vintage RNA – to be whisked away to many a tethered ribosome. Polypeptide chains were being made at the speed of a Ferrari. Well, maybe not. I think I drive like a snail and keep to the proverbial speed limit. My personal transcription best is probably at 45 mph. Proteins abounded and knocked sense out of my neural nets. And out, YES! – out came the whirlwind of amateur experience. Some correct, some not. You decide. Oh, pooh. “A ten inch”, you say?

My first go-to statement was a repeat of a very wise professional astronomer, Bill. “Dark skies trumps aperture”. I briefly explained that in years gone by, when the world was dark, and music wasn’t classical yet, that a 3 inch aperture was used to chart the night sky. And that a ten inch, although a fine instrument, to be sure, would not be necessary if she had access to dark skies (our budding amateur, did, by the way).

My second go-to statement was that it is the telescope that you use, the most, is the one you want. Too heavy and it stays in the closet. Never to come down a flight of stairs. I described my 12 inch Dob and the conditions by which it would fly to the netherlands of my backyard. Better be pretty good seeing for me to bring out the lazy susan, and a 60 pound accessory! The answer from said future scientist, “I could pick up the 10 inch, easily”. Good news, all around.

We had spoken a tad about the moon, and the use of a 16 inch telescope. Which of course was overkill. In fact it is a promoter of a deleterious visual cacophony of aberrations that are induced by seeing alone. Cells. And many cells fit into the behemoth diameter of a 16 inch scope.

I had briefed her on the cover I employ with my 12 inch Dob. And that it had a knock out of about 2 inches. And how it limited the cell archetype to one, instead of four, or five. Less, in the case of lunar observation, is best. Perhaps the same can be said of a good planetary view. Well, not Jupiter. And I always got unrivaled views of Saturn, this past year, with a full aperture. I was too giddy to test out a constriction on the old light bucket. Maybe this year?

That led to a discussion on Cherry Springs. Bring Dad, and yourself to Cherry Springs, during a warmer clime, and enjoy a star party. There will be many that will share the view with their scopes. And therein lay the rub. Here you will get your chance to get a view, of a spiral galaxy, with an 8 inch, and then with a 10 inch. Soon you will be able to tell me if the 2 inch aperture difference has sufficient gain, to merit the investment in time, money, and weight. And then it hit me. While you are at the star party, take note of the eyepieces. Dad, now nodding his head in agreement, silently conspired with me, as I suggested that you take note of the eyepieces employed.

You had a great view with that LX200 with the Baader, in an 8 inch, and for some reason, the view appears so similar in the 10 inch version, with an Explore Scientific? Get it? Yup. She did. And that led to our attempt to forge out a plan for the pursuit of eyepieces.

There is no doubt that the best in brand will yield a best in view. And command top dollar. So, if price is not an object, perhaps the level of skill is the limiting factor, therein. I explained that as I raised a young drummer, to do four-way playing – I was not going to throw an expensive, and complete drum set his way. We would start with a snare drum. Then add a high-hat. A cymbal, and a few weeks later, some Toms. A bass drum would follow. And a musician would emerge. And a full complement of the best drums would come his way. I said to our future daughter of the stars, to decide if it were to be best to add an eyepiece, one at a time, as needed. Or to jump to the chase, and purchase an entire set outright? Money was no object, remember? I think we all know what decision was made, that evening.

The 10 inch telescope remained, somewhere in the nether-lands at a discounted 20%. at NEAF. Or was it 10%? I dunno. However, I did manage to bring up the last charge in my arsenal of astronomical refusniks:

The scope you are planning on purchasing is mass manufactured. And although the company may give you its “high-five” that all is well – the mirrors that are so crucial to an aberration free view, well, many not be aberration free. Dad, being clued in, at this point, juxtaposed his club position and many good friends that would be able to test, test, and retest to satisfaction. Having said, let the company know that you expect nothing but the best, for your purchase dollars.

However, many a company that I have had the pleasure of giving that challenge to, has backed down. So where did that leave us to venture? I am name impaired. And it would have taken me at least 20 minutes, or more to remember the best of the best. So I cheated the moon-light, and lit up my smart phone. And keyed in a request. And out popped the name of names. The best of the best. Wait a minute. I forgot, and don’t want you to wait another 20 minutes for me to remember. Just a moment, let me get my smart phone…

Just as I reached for said beasty, the name popped into existence. TEETERS. See? Ferrari, after all. Zoom-Zoom.

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The picture of a black hole

by Prasad Ganti

In January 2019, I wrote an article on radio astronomy in which I mentioned a recent book titled “Einstein’s Shadow” by Seth Fletcher. The book talked about photographing black holes and why it is very difficult to do so. The spectacular pictures of a black hole came out recently. It has been one of those major scientific victories of this decade like the discovery of Higgs Boson or the gravitational waves. It is another validation of Einstein’s theory.

It is now widely believed that every galaxy has a supermassive black hole in its center. The very first picture of the black hole is from Messier 87 (M87), a galaxy located more than 53 million light-years from Earth. It has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the sun.

Why is it difficult to see a black hole ? Why was the first black hole pictured not from our own galaxy ? Black hole by definition is black. Because it absorbs all the light and radiation and matter falling into it. It does not reflect any radiation back to us to capture and hence see. The size of the black hole is much much smaller compared to the galaxies harboring them. We can try to look at the gas surrounding a black hole. The gas and matter close to the black hole, but has not yet reached the point of no return, which is called the Event Horizon. The gas in this region can get heated up to billions of degrees (at such temperatures it does not matter if it is fahrenheit or centigrade). And emits radiation of its own as any hot body would do so.

The radiation coming out of the halo surrounding the black hole, spans across different frequencies. Lower frequencies are radio waves and microwaves. Higher frequencies are infra-red, light, ultra-violet, x-rays and gamma rays. These different frequencies then start their journey across the universe. Across the vast space to reach us. The space between us and the source of radiation is not truly empty. Other than possibly objects like stars and galaxies, there is lot of dust and clouds of organic molecules which can act as potential obstacles in our line of sight. Most of the higher frequencies are absorbed by the such noise in the space. What manages to escape are the radio waves. Which are very similar to our AM and FM radio waves, except that they are not intelligible like our radio stations are.

Since it is the radio waves we are trying to capture, an optical camera will not do. Certainly not the ones which are there in our phones. We basically need a radio receiver. Instead of optical telescopes, we need the radio antennas – dish shaped or a set of rods. This combination of equipment leads to radio astronomy instead of lens and mirror based optical astronomy. Lens and mirrors can be thought of as antennas for light, or antennas can be thought of as lenses and mirrors for radio waves.

Examples of radio telescopes are ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array), a collection of 66 radio dish antennas in Chile. A 300 foot dish radio telescope is in Green Bank, West Virginia. A 500 foot dish radio telescope was recently built in China (called FAST). A single dish radio telescope is in the South Pole. The bigger the telescope, the larger is the collection area. Better it is to capture pictures of distant objects. There is a limitation on how big the telescopes can grow. Another option is to combine telescopes across the globe to effectively form a big telescope. Such a giant telescope to picture a black hole is called an EHT (Event Horizon Telescope).

EHT combined measurements from radio observatories on four separate continents – namely North America (Large Millimeter Telescope), South America (Atacama Large Millimeter Array), Europe (Institute for Radio Astronomy in Millimeter range), and Antarctica (South Pole Telescope). And a few other telescopes were involved. Since they are all spread out geographically across multiple time zones, synchronizing them and co-ordinating among different teams was a himalayan effort. The collected data was so massive that it could not transported over the internet. Hard drives containing vast amount of data were physically transported back to MIT and Max Planck Institute of Radio Astronomy in Germany. There were delays in getting data from South Pole due to the Antarctic winter.

The book “Einstein’s Shadow” has lot more details about the EHT and the team which did all the conception and the co-ordination of this massive exercise.

I am not reproducing any pictures here. They are there on the internet, particularly on the site A note that the pictures of the black hole or any other astronomical object like the galaxies and the distant stars we are shown, is not how they would be appearing even if we happen to be in the neighborhood. The human eyes are simply not enough to perceive that kind of reality. Based on the data collected by the telescopes, computer algorithms are used to assign colors based on factors like the temperature. This is the best we can do with our limited senses.

Our Universe the Milky Way also has a supermassive black hole in the middle. This black hole is closer to us, but we cannot be looking from the above, since we are in the same plane. We will be looking at it from the side. That makes it difficult to view. But I am expecting more black holes to be pictured in the future. More radio telescopes will be joining the EHT in the hunt. I am also expecting a Nobel prize in physics in the coming years for this effort.

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compiled by Arlene & David Kaplan

The first ever picture of a black hole: It's surrounded by a halo of bright gas


First ever black hole image released
Astronomers have taken the first ever image of a black hole, which is located in a distant galaxy. It was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a network of eight linked telescopes.
It is surrounded by a halo of bright gas and measures 40 billion km across – three million times the size of the Earth – and has been described by scientists as…more

The sensors were developed in France and the UK


Nasa lander ‘detects first Marsquake’
The American space agency’s InSight lander appears to have detected its first seismic event on Mars…more

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